Korea’s Birthrate in Decline
Korea’s Birthrate in Decline
  • Reporter Lee Ha-jun
  • 승인 2018.04.18 16:16
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▲Data reference: Statistics Korea
▲Data reference: Statistics Korea

Korea’s birth rate in 2017 has scored the lowest ever, that rate being 1.05 people. This means that one person gave birth to 1.05 people last year. This decline has been an issue for quite a few years, but there seems to be no clear solution to the problem. Many politicians are coming up with pledges regarding this problem, and President Moon Jae-in was also concerned about this issue. Recently, he made a pledge about this, and formed the ‘Presidential Committee on Aging in Society and Population Policy’, with himself being the head of the committee. This illustrates how serious a problem the low birthrate is in Korea along with another serious concern, the rapidly aging population issue.

If we take a look at the birth rate since the 1990s, starting from 1.57, it has been consistently declining, reaching an all time low of 1.05 last year. One of the most critical secondary effects from this phenomenon is the decrease in the marriage rate. Last year, 264,000 couples were married, which is the lowest over the past 40 years, and the actual number of marriages has been constantly decreasing since 2012. We have to consider the number of people getting married out of 1,000 people since the number of total population differs from the past, and this rate is the lowest ever, being 5.2. The reasons for the low birth rate and marriage rate are similar, low employment and increasing housing prices, to name a few. Due to these problems, perceptions about marriage are quite different from the past. Many people consider marriage as an option, rather than a prerequisite. This view is not wrong, but with marriages in decline, the birth rate also suffers and this is detrimental to society.

What could be the solution to these problems? The government has been active in putting forth an effort to deal with the low birth rate issue, even though the results are questionable. They invested 130 trillion KRW of the budget to solve this problem since 2006, however, as we can see, the outcome has been ineffective. President Moon’s government considers this a serious problem, and established the Presidential Committee on Aging Society and Population Policy. The committee was actually scheduled to announce the ‘low birth rate counterplan roadmap’ last month, but have postponed it until May to come up with a more effective and effectual plan to combat the worst birth rate in Korea’s history. While postponing the announcement, the committee is examining policies that may need extra finances, and that is one reason why the new schedule will be announced after the National Finance Strategy Council in the late April. The Ministry of Finance and Strategy (MOSF) is also cooperating. The ‘2019 fiscal guideline’ announced by the MOSF emphasizes the low birth rate and aging society as one of the top four priority investment fields. This guideline is the standard for ministries to refer to when they organize and implement their own budgets. We will have to see what this government can come up with, and what the outcome will be.

Another country suffering from the same problem as Korea is our neighboring country, Japan. Japan has been known for its low marriage and birth rate. In Japan, one out of four men under the age of 50 is unmarried, and one out of seven women under 50 is unmarried. We can see how serious this problem is. Comparing Japan with Korea, Korea’s 20~30 aged group unmarried rate has exceeded that of Japan’s, and this becomes a critical problem because the age between 20~30 is the prime age for giving birth. Although the marriage rate mentioned above (marriage rate out of 1000 people) is slightly higher, 5.0 vs 5.2, the rate has decreased significantly throughout the years. In the case of birth rates, Japan is maintaining a stable birth rate near 1.4, but that of Korea’s has decreased significantly to 1.05. Comparing the decrease in the ‘total number’ of newborn infants provides some shocking insight. Throughout the past 20 years, from 1997 to 2016, the decrease in the number of newborn infants in Japan was 210,000 infants, in Korea it was 260,000. Korea’s decreasing number is much higher than that of Japan, and one more important thing to consider is that the total population of Japan is twice that of Korea. It cannot be said that Japan’s status is much better than Korea’s, but their national companies and organizations have established the ‘Work & Life Balance’ model, which originally evolved in Sweden in the early 21th century and the results are progressive. Korea’s government and national organizations should take this problem very seriously, and be unwavering in finding a solution. 

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